‘Financially unsustainable’ children’s services asks council for £12 million for redesign

An 'inadequate'-rated children's services wants the money to prioritise early help services and reduce the number of children in care

Photo: Michail Petrov/Fotolia

A council plans to invest £12 million into its ‘inadequate’-rated children’s services to reduce the number of children in care and address financial unsustainability.

Norfolk councillors will next week debate whether to make the investment, split over four years, into children’s services to support a redesign to strengthen early help services.

A report submitted to the council said: “Looked-after children’s numbers have increased consistently over the [last five years] from approximately 1015 in March 2012 to 1107 in March 17. Whilst [looked-after children] numbers have risen nationally, the rate of the Norfolk increase has exceeded the national picture.”

The report said the children’s services’ current delivery model was “financially unsustainable” going forwards, and was already forecasting a £1 million overspend, despite a £9 million additional spend in the 2017/18 budget.

The council estimated that without additional investment the number of children in care would continue to rise, and place an extra £5 million a year demand on services by 2021/2022.

Unnecessary assessments

As well as increasing the size of early help services, the money would support the council to recruit more in-house foster carers and reduce the dependency on “expensive” agencies, invest in training and development for social workers, and reduce the number of unnecessary assessments being done by social workers.

The report said there were “too many” contacts through the front door that revealed “no significant concerns”. As a result, social workers were spending a “disproportionate” amount of time on assessments that didn’t progress any further..

“Without corrective action, this level of activity will continue to rise utilising resources that could be better deployed elsewhere,” the report said.

The council’s policy and resources committee will decide whether to grant the extra funding on Monday 25 September.

The leader of Norfolk council, Cliff Jordan, said the ambitious programme would “transform” work with children and families.

“This is the first time such a significant one-off investment has been proposed for a programme of this kind in Norfolk – investing today will deliver long-term savings at a time when our budgets are under considerable pressure. As an administration we believe it is the right approach for our country and shows our absolute commitment and determination to improve services for children.”

*Correction: The headline for this piece originally read that the service was ‘financially unstable’. This was incorrect, and should have read ‘financially unsustainable’, as was quoted in the piece and the report. The headline was amended on 20 September.

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One Response to ‘Financially unsustainable’ children’s services asks council for £12 million for redesign

  1. Hilary Searing September 21, 2017 at 9:31 am #

    Obviously, it makes sense to have more in-house foster carers and to reduce the dependency on agencies. However, it is naive to think that a one-off solution can be found that will deliver long-term savings in the future. Early intervention is an accepted notion of good social work practice but has been re-invented by leaders of the profession as a quick-fix solution. It is impossible to know how the transformation of children’s services would actually be achieved. The real issue is how to raise standards of practice – but there are no realistic ideas about how to do this. Throwing money at a bad idea is money down the drain.

    There seems to be an underlying assumption that social workers are the problem as they fail to serve the public well and consequently more public money should be invested in their training and development. Apparently, they can be taught a new technique to fix dysfunctional families and raise standards of parenting so that the need for statutory services is reduced in the future. Social workers are not opposed to measures to improve cost effectiveness and would probably agree that they should not waste their time doing pointless visits that achieve nothing and alienate parents. However, they know that the quality of the service they provide is dependent on the provision of good management decision-making about priorities.

    There is also an alarming assumption that too many children are on Child Protection Plans – which I feel uneasy about. The CPP is an important social work tool for working with families where children at at risk of coming into care. It is a core area of work in which good practice can prevent the need for legal proceedings. It is also essential that social workers and managers are properly trained and supported in carrying out formal child protection investigations – as competent fact-finding and sound decision-making at this stage has a crucial influence on subsequent work.

    Meaningless platitudes about early help should not be used to justify the demand for extra money. Instead, there should be a clearer focus on how to improve work with children at highest risk and in greatest need and a better understanding of the realities of child protection duties and responsibilities.